The Diamondback Release 29.1 is a Full Suspension MTB with a Budget Build [Review]

The Diamondback Release 29.1 is one of the newest and most affordable full suspension 29ers in the brand’s line. With 130mm of rear travel and a 140mm fork up front, this trail bike is designed to be an everyday driver, and for the past several weeks I’ve been putting it through its paces. For an overview of the bike and build, be sure to read my in for test article published last month.

Making some adjustments

Priced at $2,500 the Release 29.1 falls into the budget category for full suspension mountain bikes, which means buyers will find a mix of mostly basic components. To this bike’s credit the component spec is smart, featuring a 12-speed drivetrain, dropper post, comfortable cockpit with a 35mm diameter bar and stem, and even tubeless-ready wheels and tires. Still, the mix leaves a bit to be desired on the performance front so I made a few easy tweaks to get the most out of the bike.

For starters, I decided to test Diamondback’s tubeless compatibility claim after suffering a pinch-flatted tube early in my testing. The bike doesn’t ship with tubeless valves, so buyers will need to pick up a set (about $12 on Amazon) along with some tubeless tire sealant. I needed an air compressor to get the tires mounted, and after a bit of soaping and wrangling, both tires held air just fine.

Found the leak!

Going tubeless definitely gave the bike a big performance boost in terms of the ride feel. The lighter rotational weight offered a bit more snap, and the overall weight reduction, while minor, was welcome. Not only that, by going tubeless I could run lower pressures and found the bike handled much better and felt smoother on the trail.

The next adjustment I made was to the suspension settings. After setting the sag properly for my weight, I found the suspension felt a little slow and mushy. While the included SR Suntour fork and shock are actually pretty decent, they still don’t offer the low stiction and smooth action riders will find with higher-end components. To compensate, I cranked up the rebound on both by a few clicks for a more lively ride feel. This alone made a huge difference, and it didn’t cost a cent.

photo: Chris Kelly

I really wanted to find a way to carry a water bottle on the bike, but the placement of the mounts underneath the down tube make this almost impossible. Traditional bottle holders won’t do as they tend to release the bottle (ha!) as soon as you hit a bump. Also, the front tire tends to spray mud all over an under-mounted bottle so I would need to find one with a cap that covers the nozzle.

The $45 Fidlock Twist isn’t cheap but I figured it was my best shot. Not only does the Fidlock mount feature powerful magnets to hold the bottle, it also twists into place for added security. Bonus: the bottle features a dirt cover for the cap.

Unfortunately, I lost my bottle on its maiden voyage. And no, it wasn’t on a rocky, gnarly trail either; this was on a ride with my kids on a Wednesday. My advice is to avoid using the down tube bottle mounts on this bike, or any other mountain bike for that matter unless you don’t mind buying a replacement bottle after every ride.

The build

While I covered the build in more detail in my writeup last month, I wanted to highlight a few items based on my testing.

The TRP Slate hydraulic disc brakes worked surprisingly well for me, despite the Release 29.1 featuring the less-powerful 2-piston version. The brake performance is all the more impressive given the heavy nature of this overall build. I found more than enough stopping power and the brakes felt smooth and consistent throughout testing.

This build specs an SX Eagle drivetrain which mountain bikers will recognize as the most affordable 12-speed group offered by SRAM. As such the system adds a good bit of weight to the overall build, and it doesn’t operate as smoothly or as quietly as more expensive Eagle groups. I found the rear derailleur worked fine initially, but over time it needed adjustment, which isn’t all that uncommon as cables stretch and parts get worn in.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the total destruction of the derailleur during a ride at Chewacla State Park in Alabama. After riding more than a dozen miles, I shifted to a larger gear and heard a sickening crunch from the rear end of the bike. Freezing after an eighth of a pedal stroke, it was already too late: the derailleur had been ripped clean off. It all happened so fast I’m not sure what caused the problem, but I suspect the bottom of the cage caught a spoke, though I wasn’t even in the largest cog at the time.

Surprisingly, the derailleur itself broke off, leaving the hanger in tact. That’s not how things are supposed to go, so either the SRAM SX derailleur is too weak or the Diamondback derailleur hanger is too strong. Or it was just bad luck.

As I mentioned in my initial report on the Release 29.1, the WTB Koda saddle feels great and it continued to serve me well during my test. If I planned to spent more time on the bike I would swap out the grips for a pair without an inside flange. I’d also upgrade the tires as the WTB Vigilantes drag a bit on hardpack and I never got fully comfortable with the cornering transitions.

On the trail

Note my water bottle in the hip pack, not mounted to the down tube. photo: Chris Kelly

The Release 29.1 is the most affordable Diamondback mountain bike to feature the brand’s Level Link suspension platform. On the trail it works as advertised, serving up a relatively stable pedaling platform while performing well over rough, fast descents. However, I’m not sure the Suntour Edge R shock allows Level Link to work at its full potential, as I did experience some sluggishness from the rear end. As I mentioned earlier, I dialed up the rebound a bit which improved the responsiveness on descents and even made climbing snappier, but I still left feeling like I wasn’t able to experience the frame’s full potential.

A big part of the sluggish feeling comes from the bike’s overall weight: 35.5 pounds, give or take. Not only does this negatively affect the bike’s climbing ability, it also makes for less playful descents. Popping off roots and rocks takes a little more effort to get the bike in the air, and that’s assuming you aren’t already worn out from the climb to the top.

Overall the Release 29.1 geometry feel comfortable, both climbing and descending, even on multi-hour rides. I’m 6’3″ so I tested a size extra large, and I found the handling to be a little awkward at times. For starters the bike features a short, 25mm bottom bracket drop across all sizes, placing the rider’s center of gravity a bit higher compared to other full suspension trail bikes. The included TransX dropper post on my test bike offers 150mm of travel which is a respectable amount for many riders, but having 175mm or even 200mm of travel puts tall riders like myself in a much more stable position for descending.

The 73° seat tube angle is comparatively slack by today’s standards as well, which gives the bike a bit of a lazy feeling on the climbs. Fortunately when paired with the 67.7° head tube angle the front wheel stays planted and tracks well when pedaling uphill. While the head tube angle is fairly steep for a modern trail bike, I found the bike descends fairly confidently, thanks in part to the 140mm fork.

Bottom line

As a product reviewer, it’s important for me to evaluate a mountain bike based on its intended buyer and use case. Yes, I’ve tested many bikes that cost four times as much as the Diamondback Release 29.1, and while those bikes are far superior to this one, the folks who buy $10,000 bikes are not the same ones who might consider the Release. That being said, I’m going to suggest buyers pass on the Release 29.1 and consider going a different route.

For beginning riders, or those who consider a $2,500 mountain bike a bit of a stretch budget-wise, the Diamondback Sync’R hardtail is a much better option in my opinion. Like the Release 29, the Sync’R features a 140mm fork up front, the same SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, and it even comes with a dropper post. The best part is, at $1,450, this bike saves buyers more than $1,000 compared to the Release 29.1, and I suspect it also weighs a good bit less. Yes, the Sync’R rolls on 27.5+ wheels and tires instead of 29ers, but many will find the wider tires are more forgiving which is especially good news for new riders. Alternatively, buyers could spend the full $2,500 budget on a different hardtail for a seriously lightweight and highly capable bike.

More experienced riders or those who have reached the limits of their hardtail mountain bike may have their hearts set on a full suspension bike like the Release 29.1, and I don’t blame them. In that case, I recommend saving up a little longer to afford the Release 29.2. That build features the same frame as the Release 29.1 I tested but it comes with higher-end suspension components, a smoother and more reliable Shimano 12-speed drivetrain, and Maxxis Minion tires which are hard to beat. Priced at $3,250 the Release 29.2 is significantly more expensive but should save buyers money in the long run compared to upgrading individual components on the Release 29.1 down the line. If $3,000 is a hard cutoff budget-wise, the Canyon Spectral 7, which I tested earlier this year, is another option I can recommend.

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